And how pregnant is your wife? Full term?" asked the 911 emergency dispatcher with professional calm.
I was about to say, "Very pregnant, mister," when suddenly my wife, Sonya, cried out from the bedroom, "It's coming!"
It's coming — not he or she, because we didn't know the sex. No peeking at sonograms for us. We just love a surprise.
"It's coming, NOW!"
It's a terrible thing to admit, but I was thinking, NOW? How does she know? Couldn't it be false tremors, due to the, uh, the Bradley-Hiccup contractions? Or were they palpitations? I'd never read the pamphlet on our coffee table, "How to Know When You're in Labor." Now it was too late.
Sonya hollered once more. "The head is coming out!"
That's when the tingle of imminent fatherhood accelerated into something closer to blind panic: at 4 a.m., in a home medically equipped with no more than Band-Aids and aspirin, my only helper our 2-year old, Rudy, in happy-face pajamas.
Exceedingly natural birth was not my idea of a pleasurable welcome to the world. It's true that a friend of a friend of ours gave birth in a water-filled horse trough, aided by the sort of hungry helpers who did not let the afterbirth go to waste. But as a man who practically begged for nitrous oxide during my most recent dental work, "natural childbirth" is as appealing to me as "natural tooth removal."
My wife is of tougher stuff. Sonya delivered Rudy after 14 unmedicated hours of squeeze and push. As Rudy began to emerge, the doctor kindly inquired if I'd like to bear closer witness. I sputtered, No, thanks, I'll stay up here, topside, swabbing Mom's sweating brow.
I knew that a "modern dad" shouldn't shy away from such an opportunity, but there was a fair chance that I would faint at the front line. Likewise, I refused the invitation to snip the umbilical cord: I might have performed an accidental circumcision, or worse, on the squirming infant—or the doctor.
Our second child, we were told, was likely to make a speedier exit. Nine days before the due date, Sonya announced that she sprung a small leak. Time, she decided, to pay a visit to the midwife at the birth center. It was a handsome day, and as is her habit, pregnant or not, Sonya rode her bicycle. Stupendous with child, she didn't so much hop on her bike as dock with it. I noted the resemblance between my wife and the Hindenburg just before the explosion.
Six miles and an hour later, she pedaled back with the news: the leak was amniotic fluid. With a risk of infection, the midwife had advised that she would induce labor the next day if the baby did not come out on its own. To help the little one make up its mind, she suggested castor oil to Sonya. That evening she swallowed two ounces with a grimace. Profound internal rumblings and visits to the bathroom resulted.
While Sonya managed to catch some fitful sleep, I dozed peacefully — the husband without a clue.
While Sonya managed to catch some fitful sleep, I dozed peacefully — the husband without a clue. My job, I still believed, was merely to drive Sonya to the birth center and provide comfort.
And to time Sonya's contractions when she woke me in the dark. Five minutes between the first two, then three minutes to the next. "Call the midwife," she panted. I did. The midwife, despite the hour, urged us to meet her at the birth center.
I trotted back to the bedroom and Sonya. Rudy woke and heard the words that sent me back to the phone: "Call an ambulance. This baby is coming soon."
I call, then come skidding back down the hall, still gripping the phone, flabbergasted by the truth, by the sight of our child beginning to leave the black world of the womb. I cradle the blue and silent head in my trembling hands, hoping that we'll all live through this. The tiny creature does not stir, does not emerge further. The voice on the phone is trying to coach me, but he might as well be telling me how to fly the space shuttle. I have no idea.
The world collapses into a space inhabited by just me and an infant's head. I see now the umbilical cord, snagged on its shoulder. Acting with the instinct you might expect in a golden retriever, I quickly slip it off while Sonya gives another push. The child opens its eyes and cries out as it slides home.
As she slides home, surprisingly clean and slick. It's a girl, I exclaim. In tears with gratitude, I wrap her in a towel and hold her up and say, "Look, Sonya, look at what you made." She's alive. Rosa Paloma Malusa.
We are so delighted that we don't notice Rudy sneaking out a minute later to let the ambulance crew into the house. While the paramedics hustle in, Rudy returns to my side. "See," I say, "see how the baby in mommy's tummy came out?" He stares at his yelping sister, then turns to ask, "Is there just one?"
I hope so. Just one.